Read Part 1: Mission Impossible: Jami’s Dinner
The age old question of how to roast a chicken… After I decided that roasted chicken would be the perfect solution to Jami’s Mission Impossible Dinner, I thought I would look into how everyone else thinks a chicken should be roasted. A classic dish, almost every chef and home cook has his or her own method for the “perfect” chicken. From differences in flavorings, temperature, basting, racks…it can be a very confusing field to navigate. With the way everyone talks about roasting chickens, you really do come to believe it is rocket science.
So I tried to wade through some of the confusion for you. I have provided what I call a “starter” roasted chicken recipe. This recipe produces a juicy, flavorful bird, but streamlines the methods and only requires minimal work from the chef. Once you have mastered the starter recipes, I encourage you to try other variations. Also, try some different techniques. Do you like your bird better when its been basted, or left alone to cook in high heat? Do you like the flavors of citrus with your chicken, or do you prefer garlic and herbs?
So let’s start from the beginning: How do you pick out a chicken to roast? Depending on your grocery store, you may have a couple of options or just one whole chicken available for purchase. When I first started buying whole chickens I never knew the difference between a broiler/fryer bird and a roaster chicken. The answer is simply size. Broiler/fryers range 1.5-4 lbs and serve 3-4 people. Roasters are larger (3.5-7 lbs) and obviously serve more people. It really does not matter which, but I buy the biggest bird I can get my hands on (even though I am only cooking for two.) If you are going to take the time and love to roast a chicken; make it count. I use the meat for various dishes during the week and then the bones for stock. It doesn’t take any more prep time to roast a 5 lb bird than it does a 3 lb. It may take an extra 1/2 hour in the oven, but you already have a jump start on dinners for later in the week.
So now that you have bought your chicken, let’s get it prepped. The first step is to remove any “presents” inside the cavity of the bird. Usually there will be a paper bag with the giblets, along with a neck and various other parts, depending on your butcher. Next, give your bird a good cold shower. Rinse well and pat dry with paper towels (inside and out). Now for the flavorings…which is where you can have fun. Some recipes call for a simple dry rub of herbs and spices on the outside of the bird. I like to massage my seasoning in between the skin and the breast meat. (I don’t eat the skin, so seasoning the outside of the bird doesn’t do as much for me. By seasoning the meat directly, I guarantee more flavor by trapping all those wonderful herbs.) To do this, carefully loosen the skin with a couple of fingers…just be gentle – the skin comes away easily, but can also rip.
Once you have flavored your bird, its time to tie it up. Here again, (as in most steps of the roasting process) there is some difference of opinion. I tie the legs of the chicken together with kitchen twine. I do this to help all the meat cook evenly. The dark meat in the legs will cook much quicker than the white breast meat (the age-old problem of roasting poultry). By tying the legs together, it brings them closer to the body and therefore limits the air flow and heat, and cooks slower. So, I say tie. Even if its just for decoration, you worked hard on this bird and you want it to look picture-perfect as it comes out of the oven.
So we are ready to start roasting. I start my oven hot and give the chicken a good jolt of heat for the first 15-20 minutes until it begins to brown. After that, I reduce the heat and continue to cook until my thermometer beeps. Again, another roasting debate is to use a rack or not. I personally do not. First off, I am sure that a roasting rack is pretty difficult to clean….also it is just not that necessary. I have started to use a “veggie” rack (a tip from my boss, Roger) and use thick slices of onions to prop the chicken. Not only does it enhance the roasting juices with onion flavor, but it allows air circulation under the bird and keeps it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. So I say skip the rack and slice a couple of onions.
And now for what I consider the hardest part of roasting a chicken – thermometer placement. From my first chicken, to pretty much every one I have roasted since, I have a small panic attack about where to place the thermometer. All recipes say “the thickest part of the thigh.” Well I don’t know about you, but that just isn’t descriptive enough for me. The reason I get a little panicky about it, is that a misplaced thermometer can also mean a mis-reading…something you just don’t want to play around with with chicken. So…here’s what I have decided…you don’t need to place the thermometer in the thigh. Go for the breast – I feel like we all have a better understanding of where the breast starts and ends and about where it is thickest. If you temp the breast instead of the thigh, you just adjust the temperature you are working towards. (Breast meat is done at 160, while thigh meat should cook to 170).
Ok, into the oven we go. For the basic recipe, I say don’t baste. There is not a ton of liquid to baste anyways, so just let it do its thing. Keep the oven door closed and enjoy the fantastic aromas swirling around your entire house.
Recipe: Roasted Chicken
Recipes for Left-over Chicken: Chicken Dinners for a Week
Now that I’ve told you how I roast a chicken, let me know your methods. Please share with us all the tricks and secrets that make your bird your own.